Three days later, Karl left for the mountains, leaving behind his two small children, three temporarily adopted children, and the woman, who somehow in the few short months he had known her, had stolen his heart. To deny his affection for Emilie now seemed ridiculous, but still he did not know what to do about those feelings. He had three months in which to figure it all out, and he vowed as he said his goodbyes to those he loved more than life itself, that he would have a decision one way or another, before he returned home in spring.
Life settled into a comfortable routine for Emilie and the children. The older Bell children returned to school while Emilie spent her days taking care of the younger children and performing her daily household chores. Everyone was assigned their own chores to be completed each day, and with the occasional help of Frederich, Karl’s dependants managed quite well. The days of her first winter on the prairie were short, the evenings and nights incredibly long, and Emilie learned one more thing about winter on the prairies – it was a time of visiting and fellowship between neighbors that during the busy summer months were separated by distance and time.
Two evenings after Karl’s departure, Emilie looked out of her frosted windows to see a line of sleighs turning into Karl’s yard. As she watched in fascination, one sleigh after another stopped a short distance from the house and men, women and children began to climb out of the sleighs. The first person she recognized was Annie, who moved her short stout body purposely toward the door that Emilie already held open. Falling into place behind her were the Bell children in Annie’s care and behind them, more women and children that Emilie had never seen before.
“We’ve come to socialize,” Annie announced boldly, as she stepped into Karl’s home and threw her arms around Emilie’s shoulders. “These here are neighbors of ours Emilie, who have waited some time to make your acquaintance; no time like the present I say,” Annie ushered the women and children following her into the house and closed the door firmly behind her.
Emilie smoothed her hair in place, and smiled nervously as one by one the women and children were introduced to her. Never would she be able to remember everyone’s name, but she smiled warmly at each person anyway, and welcomed them into Karl’s home as if it were her own.
In a few moments the door burst open once again, this time to admit eight men of various ages and sizes. Frederich, acting as host, took the men’s coats and hats and piled them across his arms like a giant coat-rack, and then repeated his wife’s manner of introduction. Emilie realized that there were three more men than women present, and it was explained that the three men Joseph, John and William, were the newest eligible bachelors that had just moved into the area. Joseph and William were brothers hailing from Germany, and John was a recent widower without children who had moved down form the mountains after the death of his wife of two years.
Everyone who had entered the small house, held something in their arms, and Emilie was soon to realize that nothing save finding a place for everyone to sit was to be expected of her this evening. The women had brought along enough food to provide everyone with a late evening meal, and as soon as the introductions were through they departed into the kitchen to prepare the food. The children, excited to have friends come calling disappeared to the bedrooms upstairs to play, and the men set about moving the furniture in the living room to accommodate the spare chairs that they had brought along from their own homes. Annie pushed Emilie along in front of her on her way to the kitchen, calling orders to Frederich and the other men as she moved away. “You men get everything set up, and I’ll let you know when the meal is ready!”
In Emilie’s tiny kitchen, three women were already at work warming food, slicing deserts, and making tea and coffee and setting out plates, while another busily unpacked an assortment of miss-matched dishes out of a heavy cardboard box and set them on the edge of the kitchen table. At a loss for something to do, Emilie stood uncertain of what was expected of her.
Annie propelled her into the nearest chair, “Sit, be a guest in your own kitchen!” she said before breaking into a raucous chuckle at her own words.
As Emilie did what she was told, she heard a violin being tuned in the next room, followed by the lonely sound of a harmonica practicing a scale. She craned her neck to see into the living room, but her vision was blocked by one of the men standing in the doorway with a beverage of some sort held tightly in his hands.
In a minute the tuning ceased, and the sounds of a lively jig filled the small rooms of the house. She heard the children pond down the staircase and immediately began to jump and dance across the floor. The men not occupied with playing the instruments, clapped their hands, and tapped their feet to the rhythm, and the tiny little house began to shudder and shake.